Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Annotated Korra! Episodes 1 and 2

April 14, 2012

With the advent of a new Avatar and the premiere of The Legend of Korra, long distance Racebending.com co-founders and collaborators Lori Sammy and Marissa Lee got together to watch the online premiere together…on instant message!

In what we hope will be the first in a series, we gush over and break down the concepts presented in The Legend of Korra using a racebending lens! What do the Equalists have in common with the X-Men? Why are Mako and Bolin fresh and juicy? And where exactly does one find lychee juice?

Read on for our chat transcript! The images were created from our own screencaps, as well as pulled from tags on tumblr, including Korra-Gifs.tumblr.com.

Episode 1: Welcome to Republic City

Marissa: Opening credits… that’s definitely Aang right.

Lori: YES. I saw a gif of him in slow-mo and ID’d him with his jaw-beard.

Marissa: I like how he has the same beard as Mike di Martino.

Lori: ahaha is that how it works? Brilliant.

Marissa: “United Republic of Nations”. I really wonder how this is governed? Like does the earth kingdom have an advantage because the capital is there, and was there a reason why they chose this port city to be the capital…is it because it is equidistant to the other three capitals? And do the nations rule equally?

Lori: It’s by the water, at least. But I’m surprised that Aang thought that having a central city like this was a good idea. Considering how badly it went for Ba Sing Se.

Marissa: I think the city of Yu Dao (from The Promise) becomes Republic City.

Marissa: Oh man, random White Lotus people…do they have a national affiliation?

Lori: I love how everyone knows who they are now.

Marissa: And was it always their role to look for the Avatar? Did they just go into hiding after Aang went missing?

Lori: I’m not sure, but I like that theory.

Marissa: Korra’s parents are so young… I wonder if they were descendants of the Southern Water Tribe kids that Sokka was babysitting in episode 1. *distracted by Korra* Aaaah Korra so awesome.

Lori: Oh man, baby Korra is so cute!

Marissa: voiced by Dee Bradley Baker’s daughter, Cora.

Lori: I kind of love that Korra’s parents (so far) have no real connection to Katara and Sokka’s family.

Marissa: Dude so what’s with the Fire Nation guy not wearing white lotus clothes?

Lori: It’s changed! I guess since they’re all out in the open now. Clothing has become less nationally-segregated?

Marissa: More women in white lotus took, that’s good. And Katara is still wearing her necklace.

Lori: I agree. Katara looks like Gran Gran, it makes me happy.

Marissa: Some people were saying that Katara’s skin color is off in this episode…that she has darker skin in the original.

Lori: Yes, but, hey, so do all the older ladies in my family. It does seem a little paler, but, she’s older now. Some dark-skinned people lose melanin as they age, and become paler. That was my reasoning.

Marissa: This fortress thing is weird…protecting her from people who would want her dead?

Lori: I think it’s interesting that it was built in the first place. Aang wanted an Avatar training compound?

Marissa: Has Korra just lived here all her life? In the World’s Emptiest Gated Community? I mean we don’t see her hanging out with anyone else her age in the pilot.

Lori: Ahaha it’s true. And she seems very familiar with the guards and things. But it IS interesting how they kept her there to ‘protect’ her (from what?)

Lori: Tenzin is hands-down my favourite so far.

Marissa: I like that Pema is pregnant. for a while they were not supposed to show pregnant people on kids shows. Chica in The Emperor’s New Groove was the first pregnant character in a Disney movie, for example.

Lori: No way! I didn’t know that.

Marissa: Yeah, well it implies characters have had sex. That’s why Donald Duck has nephews and not sons.

Lori: HEH

Marissa: Here is proof that Tenzin and Pema have, ahem…several times.

Lori: Well, who can blame Pema.

Marissa: Deleted plot point from Avatar, according to the art book, was that Appa was actually female all along and pregnant.

Marissa: I can’t believe Tenzin drove all the way over there just to tell her “ttyl!”

Lori: I know, it’s hilarious.

Marissa: It’s good that she talks back, or sticks up for herself.

Lori: I am SO fascinated by Katara and Tenzin’s relationship. It’s kind of amazing.

Marissa: It’s weird that Katara agrees with locking Korra up in the compound.

Lori: It is! Well it’s weird that the compound was built in the first place. Aang got paranoid in his old age?

Marissa: It’s sad that Katara cries as her family flies away, since she thought they were moving in with her. It makes me miss my own grandma.

Lori: Katara’s personality is consistent with her youth version, I find. (Aside: I love how Korra is built.)

Marissa: (Well in that empty fortress probably all she does is work out.) It’s sad that Sokka is gone, too.

Lori: I nearly cried when she mentioned that Sokka was gone. It kinda hit me right then, that time had passed.

Marissa: I wonder how far away Korra’s parents live from where she was being raised?

Marissa: Dude, electricity? In the southern water tribe? They have lights? Or just fire? I can’t tell.

Lori: Northern Tribe shares more now, right?

Marissa: This scene of Korra on the boat (steam boat!) really reminds me of Flower Drum Song (1961), this old Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical with the Asian American cast. The opening sequence is of a Chinese woman hiding in a cargo hold and then getting off a boat in San Francisco. The shots are very similar, with the boat sailing past the Golden Gate Bridge. Do you think Korra snuck on board? Since she has no money…

Lori: Naw. she seems pretty legit, just rambunctious. Katara MUST have given her some money?

Marissa: Aang and giant lollipop statue.

Lori: Aang’s statue is epic, ahah.

Marissa: This is such a great shot, all the cars…

Lori: I love the ‘Golden Gate’ Bridge there.

Marissa: It’s gotta be disorienting for Naga to be around all these people and cars

Lori: The design is so cleverly done, because it’s 20’s, but it’s not American-centric 20’s.

Marissa: To me there are a ton of San Francisco references in this episode.

Lori: That’s what I felt too.

Marissa: One of the songs on the Legend of Korra soundtrack is “I lost my heart in Republic City” And then the bridges, cargo and immigrant boats.

Lori: Well, there you go. This food stand makes me hungry. Poor Naga!

Lori: I wonder what Naga means, or is derived from? All I know is it means snake, heh.

Lori: So there was a huge fooferah about this vagabond and Korra’s reaction to him.

Marissa: Yeah?

Lori: Like Korra’s ignorance = some sort of privilege.

Marissa: She’s definitely sheltered.

Lori: Well, specifically it was compared to white privilege.

Marissa: I mean she has probably never met a homeless person, plus the perception that Republic city is glamorous and well off

Lori: But yeah, I’m not sure how privileged she is? Sheltered is different, in my opinion? Clueless even?

Marissa: I live in Los Angeles and people are surprised when they come here and see all of the people who are homeless. They are also surprised to see all of the people of color here.

Lori: Hmm, it just, it felt weird to say that someone who grew up in an entirely different area of the world and then comes to an urban sprawl is ‘privileged’. Since the idea of the compound was to keep Korra protected.

Marissa: I think it is okay to say that it is a form of class privilege to be sheltered from that kind of reality. Ignorance is a form of privilege

Lori: It seems more like Korra leaving, say, a monastery and entering ‘the real world’.

Marissa: Korra is coming from this environment where she has always had clothing and food and shelter and people who care about her. I do wonder though, how many people Korra’s age have ever spoken to someone who is homeless or living in a park… It’s interesting that because Korra was so sheltered–despite having being privileged to have a home and food and things like that–Korra did not recoil from the guy or think he was gross or less than her.

Lori: Korra is clearly unafraid and curious, as opposed to being…exactly what you said.

Marissa: I wonder how that contrasts to how like, the upper middle class feels about the vagabonds or how their kids are raised to view them. I think it also opens up the question of who Korra will be asked to stand next to, or with?

Lori: I mean, not that she’s not obviously better off than him in terms of lifestyle but her reaction doesn’t translate to me as anything more than ignorance due to her living in a monastery…that was dedicated to her, heh. Seriously I am REALLY surprised that they didn’t let her out to experience the world more.

Marissa: Oh god that monastery dedicated to you has to do a trip on your ego. I mean that may be part of why she reacted so strongly to Tenzin: “Not train me? But everyone comes here to train me! When I finish the test the next person comes and trains me! I’m the Avatar and you’ve gotta deal with it!” Imagine being told you’re special all your life.

Lori: Yeah, okay, the more I think about it, she would expect people to just have her as the focus of all their attentions, hehe! I think it’s so endearing and lovely to see a character like this, who is also a female and not-white. Because you know her personality could be transplanted onto a male character and I’d bet people would probably accept it more as a ‘charming’ characteristic. Whereas ‘what Korra deserves to feel’ is a hot debate topic in fandom. /me being cynical

Marissa: Maybe it works…she is definitely more Toph-like than Aang-like; which is interesting because Toph grew up quite sheltered, too.

Lori: I agree!

Marissa: I love how the Chinese character next to Amon’s face is “ping” which means equal, peaceful, balanced, etc.

Lori: Oh nice. The Equalists are an interesting concept, too.

Marissa: This guy is so manipulative, yet has such a good point. He is definitely able to draw on the negative energy of the populace. And then there’s this scene with the triad shows that some of it is legitimized

Lori: I have to say it was kind of trippy to watch someone openly talking about being a bender, considering how anything other than firebending was treated in A:TLA.

Marissa: Well earthbenders were locked away on prison ships, waterbenders were hunted down in the Southern Water Tribe, and airbenders were genocided. So it’s really a shift for this group in terms of how they are viewed in this society versus 70 years ago. But that makes sense too because critical race theory argues that groups are differentially racialized at different periods in history.

Lori: Now has Korra ever had to face ‘bad guys’ in her life before this? Because for her, there was no question that she was like “I will save you, citizens!” attitude.

Marissa: I don’t think so, I think Korra practiced a lot and was told she needed to be a hero. She is very Batman like; I don’t think anyone sat her down and gave her the vigilante justice talk.

Lori: no, ahaha. Again, surprising they kept her THIS sheltered! And then Katara was literally like “Just go, have fun, I did it when I was around your age”.

Marissa: This idea that bending has been institutionalized in the police force is kind of scary, too. I mean what if the X-Men were law enforcement? It makes sense that benders would work together to form triad gangs. It is especially interesting that a waterbender headed that trio

Lori: The power dynamic is really fascinating. Especially because of Toph’s contribution to the police force.

Marissa: Yeah Kyoshi created the Dai Li and that ended well ..which yeah..what makes these cops different from the Dai Li?

Lori: Hey, good point.

Marissa: They have different uniforms than the cop in the park, too.

Lori: Metal bender – elite force?

Marissa: And if you can metal bend you can shoot bullets. This questioning room they put Korra in is scary too, you can only get in or out if you can metal bend. Lin Beifong kind of reminds me of Commissioner Barbara Gordon from Batman Beyond

Lori: Hah yes! She is great. They seem to be very third party, like they aren’t really there for the citizens and they aren’t corrupt and affiliated with the gangs? So I guess metal-bending NEEDS to be a trained skill?

Marissa: Yeah in The Promise, Toph has a metal-bending school for earthbenders.

Marissa: I wonder what Lin and Tenzin’s history is? Did they grow up together? Did they go to prom together?

Lori: This is what I’m hoping. Most awkward prom photo ever.

Marissa: Lin in like a magenta pink qipao, and then Aang and Katara and Toph beaming and Sokka “taking” pictures…

Marissa: Tenzin really does not know how to deal with Korra, almost to the point where maybe he wants to avoid training her.

Lori: GOD, this part where Tenzin is looking at his dad…imagine going to live in a city where your dad is a 50 ft statue, like….

Marissa: Yeah, does he feel like he is saying no to his dad, because Korra technically IS his dad.

Marissa: Korra has very poor control over the power of her emotions

Lori: She never had to learn how to be sedate, heh. Also, who arranged this press event?

Marissa: I’m guessing Tenzin did. Sounds like he is the one saying, “That’s all the questions.”

Lori: How much clout does Tenzin have?

Marissa: Councilman Tenzin, is he a city councilman? Or councilman of the entire Republic? I’m guessing just the city, but that also means that the police chief and one of the city leaders are benders. So I do buy this idea that the benders are privileged.

Lori: The ending credits music. I can listen to it forever.

Marissa: Yeah, it was cool to interview The Track Team!

Lori: I like your comparison to the X-Men. Or rather, mutants in general versus homo-sapiens.

Marissa: Yes, I was going to share this article with you: Prejudice Lessons from the Xavier Institute. It’s not a perfect article, but it’s pretty interesting. If you scroll down to page 85 and look at the Perception of Out-Groups chart. This article argues that you cannot compare X-men to the Civil Rights movement–which people like to do (framing Professor X as MLK and Magneto as Malcom X)–because I mean, hello? (For starters, Professor X and Magneto are both white!)

Lori: Really? I always heard about the parallel between mutants and homosexuality.

Marissa: There’s that too. That might be a better analogy because sexual orientation does have “passing” factor more so than race or gender.

Lori Ultimately the point of both X-men and in this case the A:TLA world is that it’s supposed to be a greater analogy for many things, not something specific to pin down.

Marissa: As we see in the animated series, you can pretend not to be a bender and hide or even be a nonbender pretending to be a bender (the episode where they stage earthbending in season 1 to sneak onto the prison ship)

Marissa: The article talks about this idea that people are viewed on scales of warmth and competence so there’s paternalistic prejudice, contemptuous prejudice, and envious prejudice. For example: applying this idea to Harry Potter, I would argue that the Death Eaters view Muggles with contemptous prejudice and the “good guys” view Muggles with paternalistic prejudice. And then I guess you have people like Petunia with kind of an envious prejudice.

Lori: I’m not very good at this sort of theory, but I know exactly what you mean when you use this comparison

Marissa: But I would probably guess the same thing with the Republic City world, where clearly benders have privilege: They are viewed as competent but also viewed as these people with low warmth…I mean, the 100-year war was started by (fire)benders and you can bet that non-benders had a harder time defending themselves. On the other hand, I wonder if the benders view nonbenders with paternalistic prejudice; they feel they are here to “help” nonbenders but that the nonbenders aren’t as innately capable… Like, poor park cop. He gets to stop people from fishing the lake, does not get to fly around in the police zeppelin.

Lori: I completely think that. I think there’s definitely a sort of differentiation between benders and non-benders

Marissa: Yes…there are certain sports, occupations, etc that are simply bender only.

Lori: Especially considering how benders who weren’t firebenders were treated during Aang’s time; now that people are free to be water/air/earth benders again, the balance could have started to shift again

Marissa: It almost seems like what happened is: Firebenders in Aang’s time were the most privileged, least oppressed. And over the past 70 years what’s happened is the firebender privilege category expanded to encompass all benders

Lori: Since I know Aang is all about balance (as all Avatars are) but Korra is what, 16? The world has technically been without an active Avatar for 16 years. So during that vacuum while Korra was growing up, other benders wanted to experience the privilege that firebenders had enjoyed. They didn’t forget what it was like to be oppressed, and they wanted to prove it. Sometimes to the detriment of their non-bender fellows.

Marissa:I know race is an imperfect analogy here but I think about how gradually over time, Irish people in the US were no longer considered a racial minority, they are now just viewed as white American and I don’t know very much about Canadian history but has that happened in Canada with French Canadians or anything like that? This idea that maybe the firebender elite lost privilege when the war ended but was able to maintain an upperhand by inviting other benders to join this elite class.

Lori: French Canada is kind of its own thing; Canada as it is now was established by both French and English. (andeveryone’s technically an immigrant, that goes without saying, except First Nations, heh)

Marissa: I guess what I’m asking is, does Canada have a similar history where certain groups not seen as white or having access to white privilege gradually gained access to that privilege?

Lori: I’d say yes, but in a slightly different way because in the US there is no State that is officially recognized as (for example) ‘the Irish state’.

Marissa: ah

Lori: That makes a difference when it comes to the country’s Federal and Provincial policy making.

Marissa: Less assimilationist?

Lori: In a way, yep.

Marissa: Man , I also wonder about intergenerational trauma in Republic city, because really, a world reeling from hundreds of years of war.

Lori: A power vaccuum? I mean you have Aang and Zuko, but who represented for the other nations?

Marissa: Yeah, but just like…how interesting is it that two generations ago, the Firebender triad member would have been hunting the two other guys he is with. But now he is taking orders from the waterbender.

Lori: Yessss, I find it REALLY interesting how the benders group together with each other. There is more unity among benders.

Marissa: And is the rest of the world as industrialized as Republic City? Or is Republic City’s technology in response to bending? Like sort of an arms race? Also, we KNOW that the Avatar world had fireworks in Aang’s time, which means gunpowder.

Lori: That technology couldn’t have happened without benders…

Marissa: While the need for firearms, steam power, etc was delayed because of bending…this desire to no longer rely on bending probably also drives the technology…during the police chase, Korra jumps onto essentially a MTA! Which is amazing, because it looks like Republic City already has better public transportation than Los Angeles does.

Lori: HEH. Vancouver too. It’s funny how Republic City could be any major city on the west coast, to me.

Episode 2: A Leaf in the Wind

Lori: I adore this beginning sequence

Marissa: I kind of miss Katara’s voice

Lori: That’s true, but I love that scroll illustration of the original team.

Marissa: So here’s a story, but my memory is crappy. The title “A Leaf in the Wind” reminds me of Serenity.

I went to see Serenity back when it came out in theaters in LA, and I sat in line next to two guys who said they had worked on Invader Zim, and I THINK they said they were working on this show with like martial arts and stuff..and so like several years later, I’m working on racebending.com and I start to think back to that conversation and I will never know whether or not those two guys were Mike de Martino and Brian Konietzko! Everytime I see them at a convention or whatever I’m tempted to ask…”Did you watch Serenity at the Avco theater in Westwood? And if so, I apologize for being skeptical about your martial arts show because now it has dominated my life in terms of advocacy!”

Lori: Oh wow!!

Marissa: But…they could have just been some other animators.

Lori: Omg Korra in her air nation outfit!

Marissa: The sleeves! You’d think Korra would be opposite a fire bender. Like Aang was opposite earth. That was the original logic.

Lori: Because she’s water tribe? I guess they wanted some sort of connection to Tenzin’s relevance to Korra.

Marissa: It makes sense it would be more about personality instead of national affiliation.

Lori: Korra is very aggressive and stout. Not very light.

Marissa: This is really cool…kind of reminds me of the scene from the M Night Shayamalan movie though, with the “training device”.

Lori: Except better. Sometimes I feel like a lot of specific scenes in Legend of Korra are like the movie….except better. Kind of a ‘screw you’ to the movie, heheh.

Marissa: At the ComicCon panel, Bryan Konietzko and Ryun Ki-Hyun talked about how Ryu deliberately wanted to make Meelo ugly, not cutesy.

Lori: AH HA HA! He is seriously ugly-cute

Marissa: Radio has also likely made messenger hawks obsolete. It’s kind of interesting how earth rumble evolved into pro sports. I mean this idea that like sports was a system put in place to reduce the amount of bloodshed between city states, so it’s a way to rally nationalism and generate rivalries without anyone getting hurt. But it also shows the three nations collaborating. I wonder why Tenzin isn’t training at a temple but at a new island he built?

Marissa: Korra is so sharp…with her butt scratching and talking back

Lori: She is reminiscent of Sokka, in a way. I know they’re not related! She just reminds me of him. I love the focus on ‘family’ in LoK.

Marissa: This reminds me of my professor telling me to “trust the process” which to me just sounds like “stop thinking critically”

Lori: hehhehe

Marissa: I can empathize with Korra. Also i have been craving lychee juice ever since this episode and have been scouring Asian markets ever since.

Lori: I SAW lychee juice at the grocery this morning. Dang! If only I knew!!!

Marissa: Ahhh Bolin

Lori: Bolin! my Tumblr dash is all about Bolin. Mako is beautiful

Marissa: So pouty. It’s interesting because people think they were both orphans and their adaptive styles are both like very useful for survival. So like Mako’s distant and not dependent on others. Bolin is cheery and his survival tactics are all about being the cute one and gaining people’s favor

Lori: Bolin reminds me of the Superboy trope, right down to the s-curl.

Marissa: Everyone on the floor is male right? So I wonder if this sport is still male privileged? I wonder if the male privilege from the Northern Water Tribe carried over?
I mean, we know Fire Nation was most gender progressive…of the remaining nations (not sure of Air Nomads). But we see the gym owner is male, the athletes are mostly male, the radio announcer is male, same with the cops…aside from Lin, they were male.

Lori: I can’t remember any females at the Air Temple where Aang grew up?

Marissa: (I think Air Nomads were gender segregated but I don’t know if women were treated differently?) Korra doesn’t interact with any women her age (Katara and Pema are older and Jinora and Ikki are younger). I also wonder about Mako and the way he treats Hasook…if he’s team leader is it because he is a firebender, does Hasook react to him in part because he is a firebender?

Lori: I’d love it if Mako was kind of a jerk to everyone. I mean, he’s obviously rocking the ‘tall dark and angry.’

Marissa: Bolin and his assumptions. Did we miss the scene where Korra is called an FOB? (FOB = ‘fresh of the boat’) Oh right, that happened during the gangster scene (“obviously fresh off the boat”).

Lori: AH

Marissa: I wanted to say that I wonder if Gene Yang‘s book, American Born Chinese, played into the choice to raise that concept.

Lori: That would be awesome

Marissa: So she isn’t assimilated to the Republic City eliteness, and then also ties into Bolin thinking she is one type of bender vs another reminds me of Asians being confused for different types of Asians.

Lori: YES! No wonder it felt familiar, lolol. So Korra’s the only female in the ring?

Marissa: Man, the one thing that might keep Avatar/Korra from being perfect is the colloquial use of crazy (ableism), especially Mako say “This girl is crazy” (women => crazy => connotations). Korra wasn’t being “crazy”; it made sense she would want to sub in for them.

Lori: Yes, and they might also utilize ‘lame’ in the future, sigh.

Marissa: Thematically this is great…in her darkest moment, dunked in water, awkward encounter with the bossy father figure, she is not used to being told no and Tenzin is not used to being questioned.

Lori: It’s an interesting overall theme they’re setting up with the argument between Korra and Tenzin. Korra’s brashness and need to be awesome.

Marissa: Tradition versus modernization.

Lori: Like Korra fully embraced being an Avatar, versus Aang being so hesitant and frightened.

Marissa: And with Korra, still this sense of entitlement…but here she is airbending, this scene is beautiful.



Marissa: (the announcer said it, not me)

Lori: I’m glad I wasn’ the only one.

Lori: So is this game going to be an reoccurring thing in the show?

Marissa: I think so. Oh so now that Korra helped Mako win, NOW he likes her!

Lori: Aww Korra apologizing, bless her.

Marissa: I love this because it is great modeling, not just for kids but for adults like me. I’m bad at apologizing, but I feel like people apologize so eloquently on A:TLA and LoK.

Lori: Yes, without resentment.

Marissa: Like: oh, this is how you genuinely apologize to someone.

Marissa: I like how Mako is looking out at her, and she’s just like “I love sports.”

Marissa: Let me just say, I love that Mako is named after Mako Iwamatsu.

Lori: I do too. It’s beautiful and full circle.

Marissa: While I can’t speak for him, obviously, I really want to believe that were he alive today he would be happy that racebending.com exists. Though I guess he might also be sad we still have to fight the good fight. It’s just such a great homage to have Mako finally starring in a leading male role as this (proto-Asian American) love interest.

Lori: Happy that there is a younger generation fighting the fight, sad that it still has to be fought in the first place.

Marissa: so, White Savior Korra? verdict?

Lori: Ugh ahahah. Y’knowthe backlash about Korra was just hilarious. Hilariously angering.

Marissa: I kind of understand what the argument was, which was this idea that Korra is the Avatar, is a bender, and is super privileged and that her perspective is informed by how she has been taught all her life to go in and “save” people, rather than empower them

Lori: I know this is totally apropos of nothing, but to my Canadian mind, it reminded me of the whole Obama campaign, where Democrat voters were like “OBAMA IS THE BOMB” before he assumed Presidency; and then once he was President they were shocked – SHOCKED! – to find out that he was a real person with his own human characteristics and not a magical Negro. Fans seem to be doing the same thing to Korra, where they almost deified her before the show aired and then once they watched the first TWO episodes, it was like ‘these are all the ways that Korra is horrible and I hate her forever because she did not meet my exact specifications for a non-white female character to act and behave.’ Okay then.

Marissa: I would argue that Katniss is more of a white savior than Korra is, though

Lori: The thing is that Korra hasn’t really DONE anything yet to warrant so much attempts at in-depth character assassination?? I dunno, it’s like she went all Superman on those gangsters, but I wouldn’t consider that ‘white savior’. I’d consider that her thinking ‘I am an Avatar’

Marissa: Can you fight bending with more bending?

Lori: I mean by the mentality of Korra = white savior, then all Avatars must be white saviors? Like…what? The purpose of an Avatar is to prevent the world from going out of balance. We can’t cherry pick which ones are ‘white saviors’ and which ones aren’t, based solely on their upbringing.

Marissa: But why is that their purpose?

Lori: Also of course the idea of ‘white’ being in there at all, heh

Marissa: Is it actually divine power? Or is is it something society or self-appointed? Like what if Korra was just like “screw it, Imma gonna play sports. Using these powers for sports.
Yeah…no…not getting involved. Gonna stay home and listen to sports on the radio. What would happen?

Lori: But doesn’t a white savior have to be like supported by a white supremacist mentality? Which doesn’t exist in LoK, because the mythology is COMPLETELY different from the Western concept of ‘white savior’. I dunno, I think trying to impose that concept on Korra doesn’t make sense because it takes the world out of the Asian-fantasy concept.

Marissa: I don’t think Korra is a “white savior” but perhaps she is a “privileged savior” because of her upbringing. I wonder about the role of the Avatar…how proactive they are intended to be, how much of it is spirit world divined that they must be doing the stuffs for the people?

Lori: I disagree, since the whole idea of ‘avatar’ is that it is the same spirit that is being passed along in reincarnations but Korra is still the same Avatar that they all were before her.

Marissa: Oh true.

Lori: She isn’t an individual in that sense that she is a being that has no end. Like a Slayer?

Marissa: It’s weird because from the perspective of the viewer, this isn’t “religion” this is hard “fact” because we see past lives communicating to the Avatar.

Lori: Yup that’s the nature of this fantasy world. And it’s not that strange to me, since growing up Hindu meant avatars and reincarnation was just…something that happens.

Marissa: There is no ambiguity or request for faith, it is non-negotiable that she is the Slayer/Avatar, etc.; but in Buffy, they managed to activate more Slayers, and we also know the cycle of the Avatar can arbitrarily end if the Avatar is killed in Avatar State. Which I wonder if it is what Amon is going for.

Lori: Which is what Ozai wanted too, right? To end the cycle. And keep the world off balance; although I guess Amon wants the world to be balanced…but in a different way from how it is now.

Marissa: But I don’t think Ozai knew about the connection with the Avatar State….I mean, what kind of fools’ errand is Amon on? Because while some of it is inherited, it’s like Jedi, benders can spontaneously show up right? Is it even possible to wipe out all the benders without destroying a huge swath of the population, and the economy, etc?

Lori: Yeah, it makes me wonder if Amon is more like…’take out the leader, the rest will crumble.’ But who knows, since so far there hasn’t been a case where the Avatar line was cut off, so there’s no way of knowing what would happen to the benders

Marissa: The Amon analogy makes me nervous in a way, because of the way people gave Racebending.com a hard time for demanding for greater equality in entertainment. Are people going to think like, oh, well “you’re oppressing yourselves, racebending” because we do get called the real racists for even daring to bring up race

Lori: LOL. I like that. I like that people would actually think that Amon = racebending.com. And I guess Hollywood/media/institution = benders?

Marissa : why?

Lori: The concept is patently ridiculous.

Marissa: I guess what I’m trying to say is, is the Equalists’ point that benders have privilege diluted by this idea that they are also depicted as an evil organization?

Lori: I think LoK is already trying to demonstrate that benders ruling everything isn’t the ideal for the world and that everything is kind of off-balance and the benders are exploitative and cruel to the common folk, BECAUSE benders have so much power. I mean, we haven’t seen much of Amon, so I’m interested to see how it progresses. I’m not expecting any sort of redemption arc like they did for Zuko, but I feel like LoK has already made the situation nebulous and not particularly clear-cut

Marissa: I hope his motivations make sense.

Marissa: Does this also mean that Korra and her friends (really she only associates with benders and has bender friends) can only ever be allies?

Lori: What do you mean?

Marissa: Well, I think of like movements to fight oppression and this idea that men can only be allies in the fight for women’s rights, straight people can only be allies in the fight for gay rights, etc

Lori: Ahhhhh

Marissa: So is this the story of like Korra learning how to be a good ally? Which is the opposite of what she did in episode 1 with the gang members?

Lori: I haven’t really quite gleaned how this plot is going to roll out in terms of how Korra fits in, but yeah I kind of like that idea. But I still don’t agree with her being a ‘white savior’, lol. She’s the Avatar and Avatars always have to have a Special Lesson to learn it’s part and parcel of being reincarnated.

Marissa: We should do this more often!

Lori: Watching Tenzin and Korra eating has made me build up a hunger.

Marissa: Lychee juiceeee

Lori: I am so buying lychee juice tomorrow. And I’ll think of you.

Marissa: I wish you could mail me some! I want to host a Korra party with the foods of A:TLA!

Lori: Ufffff Please mail me a box of it!

Check back next week for Annotated Korra! Episode 3!

Categories: blog

About the Author

Loraine Sammy is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Michael

    This was very enlightening and interesting to read, I hope you do more of these in future! 😀

    I never really thought about ‘Crazy’ as an ablest term. o_O”
    Reading the articles on racebending.com and other blogs about equality, feminism etc. I find myself realizing just how… ingrained, terms of that sort are, and how much our society is, um, ‘slanted’ in certain ways. I’m wondering, though… where does the line get drawn?

    Like, is it racist that many bad guys in works of fiction wear black armour, and that people tend to connect darker colours with ‘evil’, ‘fear’, ‘death etc.? I mean, the idea that dark = evil is culturally ingrained: does that make it bad or discriminatory?

    • The word crazy made me wrinkle my nose at Mako because the use of the word crazy to label women IS problematic, both historically (the word hysteria used to refer to wandering wombs and used to oppress and even kill women for centuries) and even in modern day (check out Yashar Ali’s essay on HuffPo for a recent deconstruction of how calling women “crazy” is used to dismiss their opinions. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yashar-hedayat/a-message-to-women-from-a_1_b_958859.html)

      I would have loved to have seen Korra retort to Mako that HE was the crazy (irrational, whatever) one for rejecting help from the Avatar given they were about to be disqualified!

      • Jaspreet

         I see why the word “crazy” is inappropriate with its historical connotations, but  I felt that Mako’s comment to Korra revealed more about his character than it did harm to Korra. Writing it out online takes it out of the context of the episode.  From what saw, instead of Korra being shown to be an “irrational woman”, it showed that Mako is incredibly insecure. Isn’t it more important to consider the complexity of the moment, the whole message rather than the partial message? I mean Korra is far from irrational, she is energetic and exciting her actions and words always reflect that. (Or if Mako is telling Korra that she is irrational maybe he’s pointing out the social norms of Republic city, and the comment just further reflects how Korra is a complete outsider.) While Mako seems to be a very closed character, you get the feeling that he has a problem with prejudging people ( kinda like a Darcy character- which gives you the sense that he’s been burned badly in the past (pun intended!!(he’s like zuko, except his scars are on his heart!!!))).

        On another note I think that Korra responding to Mako for such a misplaced and awkward comment would have been out of character, she’s got too much self-esteem to care what one guy thinks or says. (I totally agree that in the end sequence she was thinking about pro-bending not Mako btw)

        Also I think that it is also important not to “cleanse” scripts from expressing prejudices because it’s kinda like saying those prejudices don’t exist. People say things that are completely inappropriate to me in real life all the time ( I am an indo-canadian woman) and I think it would be a waste of my time to call people on their own prejudices, instead its just clearer to me that these people have some sort of insecurity that makes them say terrible things.

      • Anonymous

        You know, men are often called ‘crazy’ as well, so the term doesn’t have to be necessarily sexist or paternalizing. You realize this, right?

  • Great commentary, you two! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kaiya

    I love love love that you
    picked up on so many social justice related nuances in the episodes! Especially
    the part about what we might call “bending privilege” in Republic City. I tried
    to post a similar thought before the episodes came out on another Korra related
    article but it didn’t go through for some reason. Maybe it will now that
    someone else is thinking along those lines too.

    “If I’m honest I’m
    a little bothered about the main antagonists being called the Equalists.
    I’m thinking about everything that’s going on with backlash against
    affirmative action, hostility toward immigrants of colour, and extreme
    inequality in POC representation in the mainstream media. These
    “Equalists” view bending as an unearned privilege, similar
    to how anti-oppression activists view for example white privilege, do
    they not? I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance about trying to
    lessen unearned privilege in real life but at the same time rooting for the
    demise of an imaginary group which espouses the same beliefs as me…
    Might some viewers take this to mean the show is pro- white/male/etc.
    privilege and against equality?
    I mean, if benders have distinct
    economic/social/opportunity-related advantages in Republic City then their
    privilege would depend on the (maybe subtle) oppression of nonbenders and it would
    need to be lessened. =/ 
    The way the benders in Republic City are presented
    so far (non benders complaining about things benders supposedly can’t help) mirrors
    the attitudes of many people who claim that whites/men are oppressed now and
    they suffer from “reverse race/sexism.” I just think equality, which is something
    we strive for, is a dangerous concept to associate with villains on a tv show…
    But it would be great if the Equalists are not really villains and Korra has to
    learn to confront her privilege as a bender in a society where benders have
    advantages.  I doubt that though.. For some
    reason I think tv executives won’t like that angle.”

    • ribcagerebel

      I agree. I twitched when I heard them called Equalists because it conflates the connotations normally associated with equality movements. I knew the series wasn’t going to make it black and white, good guys vs bad guys. After having seen it all and revisiting what “Equalist” means, it kinda reminds me of Communism, and that may be a good angle from which to look at it since this is also somewhat of an era piece so maybe there are politics being revisited from the 20s, not only appealing strictly to 21st century viewers. There are gaps between the references so the analogies are completely not perfect, and I think it’s good to notice parallels so we can apply the lessons of the series, but it is also its own unique world.

      Non-benders thrived just fine alongside benders and tended to be innovative and resourceful as long as they weren’t being oppressed. The Kyoshi warriors are some of the most badass, and they’re non benders. Aang had to learn that you don’t need to be able to airbend to have the spirit of an airbender. So I actually first read non-bending as a disability, and we see Korra needs to learn to respect that nonbenders can live just fine without the abilities Korra has.

      That has been the most interesting thing for me about this series because I’ve experienced a lot of fantasy where having magical powers is considered freaky and is parallel to experiences of queer and passing. In this case the magical folks are not freaks but the privileged class. It is really awesome to see nonbenders fighting for their rights, not associated with the radical “Equalist” movement, and calling to Korra for help because she’s their Avatar, too. I really would love for racebending to follow through with annotating the rest of the episodes. You all are so fun and thoughtful.

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  • Johnny Rico

    Steven Blum is voicing our masked villian! I can’t wait until he shows up again.